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The Biggest #Brexit Lie: “It’s the Will of the People”


To make that clear, 29,089,259 people did not vote to leave the EU. How is that the “will of the people”?

What about those who were excluded from the electorate but will be eligible to vote by the time the full implications are understood and the details of whatever deal is reached at the end of the negotiations between the UK government and the other 27 nations of the EU?

I am well aware that, in the UK, we almost always have governments that do not have the express support of a majority of the electorate or even of those eligible to participate in a general election. I have always deplored that fact and spent a good deal of time and energy over the years campaigning for proportional representation. So it is perfectly consistent for me to deny the oft repeated claim that 1.3 million is a clear enough majority and that I should “get over it” and accept the result.

There is, however, a great deal of difference between the question “which of these individuals would you like to represent you in Parliament for the next five years” and “do you agree that we should overthrow 43 years of co-operation with our neighbours and return to making our own way in the world?” Not that the question was framed with quite such clarity, but that is the import of the decision. It seals our fate, not for the next five years, but for a generation. And most of the generation that will be affected had no say.

On Thursday’s “Question Time” Nigel Farage insisted that the government’s own economic forecasts are wrong, that countries like China, India and Brazil are queuing up to do deals with the UK. Ignoring the first claim, which simply highlights the man’s contempt for the civil service, let’s examine the second, which has also been asserted by Liam Fox in the past.

The truth is, as the prime minister was keen to point out, on her recent trip to China, we already have trade agreements in place with most of these nations, under the auspices of the EU. Of course they want to trade with such a large bloc with it’s population of close on half a billion. When we leave the EU, not only will we have a less advantageous trading arrangement with that bloc, but those existing trade agreements with other nations will lapse and have to be re-negotiated.

If they are indeed “queuing up” to do deals with the UK it is because they can see we will be an easy touch, desperate to sign up to anything, any relaxation of consumer protection regulations, in order to get a deal, any deal. And this is not because they are desperate to purchase goods and services produced by British workers, but because they want to offload their own surpluses on unsuspecting British consumers.

How will imports of Brazilian beef help British agriculture, which by then may well be reeling at the loss of support from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy?

An often repeated response from Bexiters, when it is pointed out that almost half our trade is presently with the EU, is that we import more from the other 27 than we export to them; there is a deficit.

But we are not obliged to import so many German cars, Spanish vegetables and French wines – or, come to that, so much dairy produce from Ireland. That is the true will of the people, exercising their right of choice to purchase what they obviously see as offering good value for money.

If you are part of the 17 million minority that wants to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union should you not be boycotting those goods already? It might help you to gain a better understanding of what you are rejecting if you did.

Another Brexit supporting politician, Daniel Hannan MEP, recently told the BBC that leaving the EU would benefit the poorest Britons because they would have access to cheap food. People like Farage, Fox and Hannan want you, and the 29 million who did not vote to leave, to introduce hormone injected beef from cattle fed on antibiotics and chicken washed in chlorine into your diet. How is this of benefit to anyone except the importers? It will impoverish our farmers and threaten the health of ordinary people, placing even greater pressure on the NHS.

It is not too late. It’s time to wake up to what awaits us after March 2019. Exiting from Brexit might leave a few politicians looking foolish, but what’s not to like about that? It’s time to respect the will of the many, not the few.


Saturday Sound-off: Blather About Borders and #Brexit

Blather is an old Scots word ultimately derived from an earlier Scandinavian word for chatter or prattle. I could have used any one of many words to denote the nonsense that is still being uttered by British politicians who want the UK to leave the EU. I was tempted to use a crude reference to bovine excrement or an equally unsavoury noun usually associated with a certain part of the male anatomy that comes by the pair.

I caught a segment of the ‘Tonight‘ programme on Irish television earlier in the week in which Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was taking part. Asked what was his problem with the Single Market and the Customs Union, he asserted that they prevent the UK negotiating trade deals with non-EU countries, deals which he was sure would benefit Northern Ireland businesses. When it was pointed out that most of those countries, including those who are members of the Commonwealth, prefer to deal with the UK as part of the much larger EU market, he responded by saying he had recently returned from Egypt where he led a trade mission from Northern Ireland, securing lucrative contracts for Northern Ireland businesses.

I felt like shouting at the screen: “membership of the EU didn’t prevent you doing that, then!”

Also this week, Channel 4 News asked a random sample of English people to mark the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic on a map of the island. The results were astonishing, showing that most people have no idea that, for example, the most northern point of the island, Malin Head, is in the Republic. Britons frequently refer to Northerrn Ireland as “Ulster” – I used to do it myself but have carefully avoided doing so in this post. The fact is that the ancient Irish province of Ulster includes Donegal which is in the Republic, to the west of Northern Ireland.

But whilst this week’s controversy has been concentrated on the land border between the UK and the EU, and the implications for the Northern Ireland peace process of any reinstatement of a border between the two parts of the island of Ireland, no-one ought to lose sight of the UK’s east and south coasts with their many ports, from Aberdeen to Southampton, all of which handle traffic between the UK and continental Europe and all of which will need some degree of additional policing if the “best deal for Britain” that David Davis is so eager to achieve falls short of the existing arrangements. And then there are the 16 regional airports*, as well as Heathrow, Gatwick and Stanstead.

I am only an ordinary citizen, although I did once dabble in local politics and even stood as a candidate for the European parliament, but I cannot comprehend how anyone could imagine that any “deal” could be better than the one we already have. I make no apology for repeating again what I said before the referendum, here, and, afterwards, here, and have continued to say in the period since.

As this comprehensive Facebook post from Jon Danzig at Reasons2Remain makes clear, the months of uncertainty, negotiations, and costly preparations that the UK has been forced to endure, and will continue to endure through the proposed two year “transition period”, are utterly pointless if the deal that is struck at the end of the process looks anything like the one we already have. And, if it doesn’t, then businesses that rely on fast freight transfers between the UK and EU will be hampered and their customers, the citizens of Britain, will pay the price.

*For anyone interested the 16 are, in alphabetical order, Birmingham; Blackpool; Bournemouth; Bristol; Cardiff; East Midlands; Exeter; Humberside; Leeds Bradford; Liverpool; Luton; Manchester; Newcastle; Norwich; and Teesside.

A Provocative Cartoon

British blogger Clive tells it the way it is, prompted by a cartoon in, of all places, The Times. Like me, Clive is of an older generation (I think he is a few yearss younger than me) utterly perplexed, not only by the result of last year’s referendum, but by the general perception that it was people of our generation who swung it in favour of leave.

The only explanation I’m able to come up with for that is that we have had 40 years of being bombarded by fake news about the EU from the right wing media.

I can’t leave you to Clive’s thoughts without adding how horrified I was to see that Corbyn’s equally out of touch crowd voted earlier this week to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union.

via Another Not So Wordless Wednesday


Saturday Sound Off: Media Hypocrisy

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Look at these two headlines. One is from the Irish Sun, the other from the UK edition of the same newspaper. They demonstrate how the paper’s owner panders to the prejudices of its readers in the two nations. (Both titles are owned by Murdoch’s News Corp.)

Behind the headlines is an unpleasant truth: no-one, on either side, wants to see a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. But it’s impossible for the British government to reconcile that fact with the demand, from some of those who voted to leave the EU, that the UK should control its own borders.

As I pointed out last week, the only possible way out of this mess is to admit that controlling this particular border is impossible. And, given the existence of the Channel Tunnel and the frequency of Ro-Ro ferry operations between the UK and continental Europe, controlling those borders is equally impractical and undesirable.

It follows that Britain must remain in the Customs Union.

The idea of dismantling the existing arrangements in order to put in place something that is, in practice, exactly the same, is an appalling waste of everyone’s time and patience, including that of the editors of The Sun on both sides of the Irish Sea.


Taking Back Control – or Not?

union-flagirish_tricolour-1Given that a key #Brexit topic of the moment is the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, I am resurrecting another old post.

On BBC Newsnight last night Kirsty Wark challenged Bertie Ahern to say that he and the present Taosiach, Leo Veradker, would welcome a hard border. Obviously he would not do so. No one in Ireland, or anywhere in the EU, wants a hard border. It is only the British government and the hard core of its EU hating citizens who seem incapable of understanding that you either have a hard border or no border.

The rationale of the decision to leave was that Britain wanted to control its borders. Logically that must include the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

But it goes deeper than that. If Britain exits the customs union it is not only the mainland border that will need to have custom controls installed. They will need to be installed at all the ports that serve routes between Britain and the EU. Dover is the busiest of these, but Southampton, Hull, Immingham, Felixstowe and, of course, Hollyhead are also important points of entry and exit. Wikipedia lists 70 major ports around the coast of England and Wales. And that is to ignore the many airports that serve air borne transport between Britain and the rest of Europe.

The BBC regularly points out the magnitude of the problems resulting from the referendum result, including that of policing all of these points of entry if Britain is to gain full control of her borders. The usual response from those who want #Brexit at any price is to call the BBC out for being too negative about the subject.

Others seem to believe that it will all come right in the end because the EU do not want to see the erection of trade barriers between the UK and the other 27 members. To which I ask the simple question: what is the point of spending two years negotiating the UK’s departure from the Single Market and the Customs Union in order to create a new relationship that replicates what has been negotiated away?

If it looks like a customs union and operates like a customs union then it bloody well IS a customs union and all that heartache, all those hours of bureaucrats’ time expended, the uncertainty disrupting British business, are a criminal waste when there are so many far more important problems the government and its employees ought to be tackling.


Saturday Sound-off: Who Stole my Country?

A couple of newspaper articles caught my attention yesterday. The first was in the Irish Times: a review of a book about prisoners of war in England during WWII and the way they were treated.

You might expect that, as soldiers, sailors and airmen fighting for Britain’s enemies at the time, they would be shunned, spat at, feared. The reality was rather different. In fact, as the review’s author points out, “it wasn’t uncommon for friendships to be struck up and for POWs to be invited into civilians’ homes for Christmas lunch.”


Prisoner of war camps in the UK: German PoWs somewhere in England bring in the harvest. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Many were permitted to leave the camps in order to work on farms and in forestry projects alongside English (mainly female) workers. It reminded me of my own experience growing up in rural Herefordshire in the 1940s and ’50s. There was a camp in the village which, at different times, held POWs and Polish refugees. One German and one Pole each married local girls and set up homes next door to each other in tied cottages on the farm where both worked.

Their children attended the local school. As a schoolboy I often worked on the same farm and got to know both men.The young woman who married the German POW had a younger brother the same age as me who became my best man at my 1963 wedding.


And then I discovered the other article, in The Guardian, about European citizens, skilled workers resident in Britain for decades, who are returning to the continent, some with their British spouses and all saddened by last year’ Brexit vote and its aftermath in which so many of them were made to feel unwelcome. It made me wonder what has become of the country of which I used to be proud, the country of whose values my father fought and died for.

From being a place that welcomed all comers and extended the hand of friendship to enemy POWs, it has become a place in which many want to shut themselves off from the rest of Europe and embrace the same nationalistic fervour that destroyed Europe in the 1930s and ’40s and which the parents of my generation sacrificed so much to overthrow.

Have the people who voted ‘leave’ not studied history? Do they not realise that, right across Europe, we share more than a thousand years of common history? Admittedly, it was a relationship often characterised by the struggle for domination between the members of the land owning aristocracy. But it seemed for a while, in the 1950s and ’60s, that, having emerged from two terrible world wars, we understood that co-operation was better than conflict. Social liberalism trumped nationalism and the majority of us understood that it was better to share the product of our labours with people like ourselves wherever they were born.


What happened? How did so many ordinary British voters come to believe that the EU, and those of its citizens who chose to make their homes in Britain, were responsible for every symptom of their country’s economic failure? Why did Cameron and the other leaders of the Remain campaign embark on a doomed quest to scare people into voting to remain in the EU? Why did the media not give much greater attention to the words of men like Lord Ashdown who made the arguments that mattered with such passion?

I wrote several posts ahead of the vote pointing out the folly of what was being proposed. Now the case for leaving is beginning to unravel as the real implications of extricating ourselves from 40 years of working together in mutually beneficial endeavours, from aviation safety to radioactive isotopes for medical use, become apparent. If only more attention had been paid to these things in May and June last year perhaps the vote would have been different. They certainly strengthen the case for a second vote once the details of the deal are published.


Saturday Sound-off: The False God of Nostalgia

I watched something on television earlier in the week about Josef Herman, the Polish born artist who settled in South Wales where he produced iconic paintings depicting the lives of miners. The presenter and his interviewees, who included actor Michael Sheen, were full of nostalgia for the lost communities of the heyday of Welsh industry. I could not help recalling earlier works like “How Green Was My Valley” and “Rape of a Fair Country”, which deplored the destruction of the landscape brought about by industrialisation. It struck me then, how misguided is our love of nostalgia.

“How Green Was My Valley” has been exposed as a fraud, a novel written by an Englishman whilst serving in the British army in India and turned by Hollywood into a sentimental movie that created “a myth, a never-never land of pristine innocence ruined by the discovery of coal. His myth has generated more myths, of pits and singing miners and explosions, but it’s a good yarn.” [Meic Stephens, creative writing lecturer at the University of Glamorgan, quoted in an Observer article in 1999]

Last evening I attended a concert by The Black Family. For those who may be unfamiliar with this group of Irish musicians and singers, it consists of five siblings who achieved considerable success in the 1980s before going their separate ways as solo artists. Few will not have heard of either Mary Black or Frances Black. Once again, we were into the realms of nostalgia doubled; for the audience the songs with which the Black siblings achieved their original fame brought back memories of their own youth, whilst the songs themselves often recalled even earlier periods in Irish history, especially growing up in inner city Dublin in the 1960s and holidays on Rathlin Island, where their father was born.

All this reminded me, too, of that Python sketch in which three men vie with each other with stories of childhood hardship in working class homes.

Our whole political discourse seems to be imbued with this kind of false nostalgia. Britain’s decision to exit from the European Union was driven by it. The appeal of Jeremy Corbyn’s rhetoric is in large part because it harks back to an age when the gap between rich and poor was less marked than today. That, too, is something of a myth. It is true that the gap has widened significantly in recent decades but that was after a rare period of narrowing. Compared to, for example, Victorian times, the poor throughout the developed world are immeasurably better off than they were. Much better off in fact than the characters depicted in either of the novels referred to above.

Even terrorism, such as that which erupted in Manchester at the start of the week, seems to be driven by nostalgia; a desire by misguided young men to return to a time when people were cowed into obedience to a god who required them to deny their natures, when women knew their place as the chattels of men and those who dared to resist were subjected to humiliating punishments.

The truth is that you can not turn back the clock. The past was never as rosy as it is sometimes painted and was often a dark place where evil reigned supreme.

Vast numbers of people are far better off than their ancestors. Much of the prosperity we enjoy has been bought by mortgaging our future, by much greater environmental damage than either Richard Llewellyn or Alexander Cordell could ever have imagined. By all means let us learn from the mistakes of the past, but let’s stop looking back and remember that the future belongs to our children.